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The Importance of Science that Delivers to the Primary Industry

New Zealand does a lot of great science. The University of Auckland is ranked 88th in the world (World University Rankings 2020) and Crown Research Institute (CRI) scientists are counted among the best in the world in many disciplines. New Zealand industry also is awash with clever scientists.

It’s important to understand that science is a continuum with blue skies or curiosity-driven science at one end and more applied work at the other end. It is not possible to only support applied science. Without the curiosity-driven work it is much harder to generate new innovative ideas that can be developed further to something that could be applied. It’s like driving a car – the petrol or battery charge is the curiosity-driven work. Without it – the car just won’t work.

The New Zealand science system is complex, with a range of different funds to support science that is more curiosity-driven and some funds that are directed at achieving real outcomes and impact. Funding agencies are increasingly looking to support science that generates rapid definitive benefit. This is difficult as the impact from science is often only felt many years after the work has been completed so in many cases it’s difficult to measure immediate benefits from science.

There is an increasing need to support great science that delivers more rapid change. This is particularly true in the primary industries. The primary industries are facing increasing pressure from consumers to produce a wider range of more sustainable, products that are nutritious. In addition, there are environmental and ethical issues to overcome, fluctuating market access concerns to address, a changing climate and competition with other countries that are much closer to large markets.

We need to address these issues quickly or our industry will become less important to consumers and markets will be increasingly difficult to access.

There are some excellent examples of science that delivers. There are commercial examples – Fonterra’s mozzarella, which now tops over half of the pizzas in China. Universities and the CRIs also produce some exceptional science. Manaaki Whenua has delivered real results in the decline of TB in possums – a key vector for TB in cattle and deer. Plant and Food continues to work closely with Zespri to deliver new products to keep New Zealand kiwifruit among the most highly sought after in the world.

It is often accepted that science is uncertain and findings don’t always result in something that delivers tangible results to industry. It’s all too familiar that science ALMOST delivers something that can be readily picked up by industry – but not quite. There are often issues with intellectual property that can’t be resolved or there is a disconnect between the science and the ultimate users of the work.

Successful science that delivers tangible benefit often has a common thread – it is usually well-linked with industry and it is well-managed. Co-development of the research ensures that both parties have a greater understanding of the questions that need to be resolved. Co-development also means that industry and scientists are more likely to work together, which almost certainly results in much earlier uptake of the work. Careful management of the work ensures that the communication between the scientists and industry is maintained and the science stays focused on the issues.

New Zealand’s primary industries is on a burning platform. We have very clever scientists and innovative adaptable farmers that are quick to adopt new ideas. I am confident that the right science can overcome all of the issues that we are currently facing – the only question is are we able to do this quickly enough?

Ed Butler

Founding Director

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